The Review: The question of what comes after this life has perplexed philosophers and kept religions in business ever since man conjured up fire and learned how to tie stones to sticks to make primitive tools. It may not seem the most likely topic for a writer who’s made his name with a series of Tony Blair biopics, the most famous of which also featured Helen Mirren in a royal role, of course, but Peter Morgan has not solely worked in biographical territory, and here explores the possibilities of what might be awaiting us if there is anything to come. He’s chosen to work together three disparate stories on a global scale to see what impact various tragedies have had on individual lives, and how people react to death and the possibility of an afterlife.
The three stories in question concern Marie (Cecile De France), a reporter caught up in the tsunami which hit Thailand in 2004; George (Matt Damon), a psychic who seems to be able to see people in the hereafter but is trying to hide from the gifts he possesses; and Marcus and Jason (Frankie and George McLaren), twins who have their bond broken apart in unfortunate circumstances. The global span of the film allows not only the Asian tsunami but the 7/7 bombings to be worked into the narrative. Marie is almost killed in the tsumani and experiences what she believes to be some sense of the afterlife, and she is the most active of the protagonists; the twins are also fairly active, and this offsets the very passive nature of George’s story as the three intermingle.
The script, although produced by Steven Spielberg’s Amblin production company, has been directed by Clint Eastwood, and his unhurried directorial style will be familiar to anyone who’s seen his back catalogue. While this allows for some lovely characterisation, especially a burgeoning love story between George and a partner at a cookery course (Bryce Dallas Howard), it does mean that the three story strands take a very long time indeed to start to draw together. Damon and Howard are probably the best actors on show, and are in stark contrast to the young boys, who would probably struggle to be first choice in a school play; their delivery early on is so stilted as to almost beggar belief that they were even cast. There’s a lot of familiar faces in the rest of the cast, but most of them struggle to make any kind of impression.
So the direction is sluggish and the script meandering; aside from those few nice character notes there’s very little else that actually rings true. It’s fair enough that the film avoids too many answers about the nature of the afterlife; that it by and large avoids questions as well is more unfortunate and robs the film of narrative impetus for long periods. Given the choice of such well known major disasters on which to hang the narrative, Hereafter doesn’t really know what it wants to ask you, or indeed what it wants you to ask yourself about the impact of these events on the lives of the characters, or anyone else for that matter. When the three stories do finally converged it feels trite and the resolutions to each are slender and in one case almost laughable. Coupled with the visual effects, which have no weight and are totally unbelievable (almost as unbelievable as the fact that they’ve been nominated for an Academy Award), and a bizarre extended cameo from Derek Jacobi as himself, the questionable choices at every turn and lack of real substance make this one to avoid.
Why see it at the cinema: The chance to see very poor quality visual effects on a grand scale doesn’t come along every day. But if you want to see Matt Damon sit in a room and describe what someone else is telling him, slowly, with no recourse to any visual cues whatsoever, then don’t miss this opportunity.
The Score: 3/10
The Review: Sometimes on paper, a director and an adaptation seem a natural fit. Here’s a novel, with fantasy elements but grounded in reality, requiring both a deft touch with actors and material, and also the ability to marshal special effects effectively and blend them into the story. Peter Jackson, anyone? Surely the man who gave us the Lord of the Rings movies and Heavenly Creatures can pull this off?
Sadly, no. There are some incredibly effective passages here, in particular the scenes just before and after the murder, and also scenes heavily spoiled in the trailer where Susie’s sister goes looking for evidence, and Jackson ramps up the tension like a master.
In addition, the acting is first rate all round – some have more to do than others, but those with the big scenes deliver every time. Stanley Tucci is the obvious standout, but Rachel Weisz and Saoirse Ronan also get moments to shine.
But the whole overall is less than the sum of its parts. For the large part, it feels like Suzie has the occasional nightmare while waiting at an amazing amusement part before going on holiday, rather than being stuck in a purgatorial dilemma. Pacing in the middle act also suffers badly, and by the end you’re left feeling largely unsatisfied. A shame.
Why see it at the cinema: The afterlife sequences are undeniably visually impressive, and the tense chase scenes will benefit from the collective experience.
The Score: 6/10